When Big Oil Does Good Things

richard schlesinger el dorado arkansas oil for college funds
Just like first graders anywhere, the kids in El Dorado, Ark., have started thinking about the big question.

"What do you want to be, Allison, when you grow up?" CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger asked.

"Half veterinarian, half artist," Allison said.

But unlike most first graders outside El Dorado, when it comes time to pick a college that teaches half-veterinarians-half-artists, Allison's tuition will be paid for by … the oil company just down the road.

Yes, that's right. Murphy Oil, a Fortune 200 company. Its CEO, Claiborne Deming, decided the kids needed help.

"So I thought, dad-gum it, we need to do something," Deming said.

And dad-gum-it if he didn't find $50 million to make a promise to the people of this small town.

So, every kid who goes through the El Dorado School system and graduates from the high school will be given $6,000 a year for up to five years to help pay for college.

"We want you to go to college anywhere you can," Deming said. "Here's $6,000. And if you go to an Arkansas public school, it's free."

Six grand will cover the entire annual tuition bill at Arkansas' public universities.

Murphy Oil will spend the $50 million over 20 years.

"We are quite a large company in a small community so we can have a very immediate and real impact that we can see and we can see it pretty quickly," Deming said.

The promise to help pay tuition has paid off in more ways than one.

In the last year, people have moved here from 25 states, the town voted to tax itself to build a new high school, and, while home values might be in free fall where you are, they're not here.

In fact house prices in El Dorado shot up almost 33 percent in one month. Martin and Maxine Crawford moved here from Memphis with their six daughters.

"When they explained what the Promise was, it was a slam-dunk for us," Martin Crawford said. "Oh that was definitely the closer."

Oil companies aren't normally seen as the good guys.

In El Dorado, A little pain at the pump is the price of admission to a future that might otherwise be beyond reach.

  • Richard Schlesinger
    Richard Schlesinger

    Correspondent, "48 Hours," "CBS Evening News"